San Jose Mayor Calls for Sheriff’s Resignation

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo called on Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith to resign last week amid mounting allegations of misconduct and mismanagement. The mayor, who previously served as a prosecutor in Santa Clara County, called a press conference to tell the six-term sheriff it was time to go.

Liccardo also issued the followed the statement:

When a Grand Jury indicts the Sheriff’s top assistants and campaign fundraiser on bribery charges relating to contributions to her own re-election efforts, we should have serious concerns. But when that same Sheriff --the top law enforcement officer in the county--then refuses to cooperate with the bribery investigation for fear of incriminating herself, the time for concern is long past. Sheriff Smith must resign.

I want to thank the County Supervisors Joe Simitian and Otto Lee for their recent efforts to bring facts to light, as reflected in a memorandum that the Board will consider tomorrow. I support their recommendations, but those recommendations should not be necessary. Sheriff Smith must resign.

As a former deputy DA in this County, my experience with Sheriff Smith’s poor leadership of her department convinced me years ago to repeatedly decline to endorse her reelection. But Sheriff Smith’s repeated mismanagement of the jail has destroyed lives, violating the most basic of civil rights of its inmates, including:
• Death of Michael Tyree in 2015
• Severe head injuries of Andrew Hogan in 2018
• Severe spinal injury of Martin Nunez in 2019
• A seven-minute beating of a man by 31 other inmates in 2020

As a former criminal prosecutor, I believe in the necessity of jail detention to serve public safety. But in any civil society, the safety of the inmates themselves must also be protected, and they must not be condemned to some dystopian tenure in Hunger Games. Under Sheriff Smith’s leadership, the Sheriff’s Office has engaged in extensive efforts to conceal the facts around these and other incidents, most palpably by refusing to share information with the County Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring, and the County Auditor.

We have increasingly learned of these revelations from recent public documents. Additionally, I have recently learned that for several years, Sheriff Smith required officers from other cities’ police departments to extinguish their body-worn cameras when bringing combative arrestees into the County jail, thereby precluding any video evidence of potential abuses by corrections officers that might come from those external police departments. After repeated objections by local police chiefs, the Sheriff finally halted that mandate in June of this year.

Moreover, Sheriff Smith has created a pay-to-play culture within the Office. Beyond the indictment of Sheriff Smith’s top assistants in a bribery scheme, Sheriff Smith also promoted the head of her deputies’ union to captain only one month after her 2018 re-election --and only after that union contributed $300,000 to her re-election. That same union leader saw her total compensation nearly double.

Santa Clara County taxpayers--the majority of whom reside in my city of San Jose--have footed the bill for eight-figure payouts on civil lawsuits and $450 million in improvements to jail operations mandated by consent decrees responding to severe failures in Sheriff Smith’s management of the jail.

The Mercury News editorial board has repeatedly called for Sheriff Smith’s resignation, attributing her behavior to “either corruption or incompetence”. Regardless of whether “corruption or incompetence” best explains Sheriff Smith's failures, either suffices to compel her resignation.

It didn’t take long for Smith to respond. On Tuesday, the sheriff said she would be staying put.

Smith has been under scrutiny ever since the 2015 beating death of county jail inmate Michael Tyree. Three deputies were found guilty of second-degree murder in that case. Since then, numerous other excessive force incidents have plagued the sheriff. Smith is accused of withholding information about these incidents from supervisors, the auditor, and the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring (OCLEM).

Laurie Smith has also been accused of doling out coveted concealed weapons permits to her donors. Alleged nepotism within the department is another concern. Two supervisors have questioned the promotion and overtime pay for a former sheriff's captain who led the correctional officers union that endorsed Smith for Sheriff in 2018.

She has vehemently denied the allegations against her, as Palo Alto Online reports. 


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